Violation nation: a look at fingerprinting in schools

While it’s bad enough that the adults among us are subjected to frequent abuses of our civil liberties, it’s  even more disturbing to realise that many of our children are growing up in a world where they are required to have their fingerprints swiped in order to borrow library books or eat their lunch.

The Daily Mail reported back in June 2010 that as many as one in three secondary schools now use fingerprinting ‘to speed up basic administration’. That can involve acts as trivial as registering in the mornings or for class.

Schools are under no legal obligation to inform parents that they are taking fingerprints. Many simply don’t bother, resulting in outcries such as the reaction to the news that Capital City Academy in Willesden had ‘frogmarched’ pupils off to be fingerprinted. Michael Gove, education secretary for the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, has promised to require schools to gain explicit permission from parents before they initiate fingerprinting. We’re yet to see any tangible, explicit legislation that would make that promise a reality, however.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of fingerprinting children is that it happens at an age when their sense of social norms and boundaries are tremendously susceptible to influence. Children who are fingerprinted during their formative years risk growing into adults who are pliable and receptive to further transgressions by the state. If the practice is maintained over several generations, the entire populace could gradually come to accept state intrusion into our lives on a daily basis — a ghastly prospect.

Thankfully, as reported in the Telegraph in December, the European Commission has stepped in to demand that the UK government justifies this abhorrent practice or risks falling foul of EU privacy laws. Let’s hope that the increasing pressure prompts schools to discontinue such an illiberal approach, and the Coalition to take action to ensure that they are held accountable.

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